by John Butler
COVENTRY take their proud unbeaten record this season of 14 wins – and 22 in total if you add on the end of the last campaign – to a very challenging venue this weekend.
The large Northern Echo Arena which, previously used for football, holds in the region of 25,000 spectators, is the setting for the game against Darlington Mowden Park who themselves are enjoying an unbeaten home record.
Cov travel to the north east, weather and conditions permitting, on the back of the mauling they handed out to Ampthill & District on Saturday while Park, whose away form has not really matched that achieved at home, come into the game following a last-minute 13-10 win away at bottom of the table Fylde. Winger and the club’s strength and conditioning coach, Shaun McCartney powered in for the winning try which saw the north easterners gather in four points, meaning Cov’s lead at the top was extended to 13 points.
A week earlier, Ampthill were beaten 21-15 in the north east with, again, Park clinching victory very late on.
Overall, Coventry’s hosts have won ten and drawn one of their 14 matches with three defeats all coming away at Esher, Blackheath and Old Albanian when ,one suspects, the OA ‘s Saracens contingent were in some part available.
Darlington Mowden Park completed last season in tenth place and Danny Brown, the former Newcastle Falcon, remains director of rugby.
The only direct link between or two clubs now that Rob Conquest has moved back to Cambridge is through Lithuanian international prop forward Ignas Darkintis, who had a spell at Butts Park a few seasons back. His appearances this season, though, appear to have been limited to four.
The Mowden squad is certainly an experienced one. Some 23 players remain from last season with around ten newcomers moving in.
Of the incomers, South African fly-half Warren Seals was technically one of them although he had been dual registered with Yorkshire Carnegie previously.
Of the remainder, four more new to the squad this season were in the starting line-up at Fylde – scrum-half Mark Dudman, formerly of Rotherham Titans; lock Dan Preston-Routledge (Leeds Carnegie); prop Alfie Barron (Hartpury College); and full-back Jack Blakeney-Edwards (Otley).
They, as mentioned earlier, have moulded into an experienced squad. Top try scorer to date, although absent last week, is Grant Connon with eight, McCartney’s match-winning try at Fylde taking him to seven. Seals, despite his absence previously, is top points scorer with 73 which includes six tries.
For Cov, who plan to travel north on Friday, it is probably the biggest challenge faced so far in this record-breaking season. After the manner in which the all-round strength and depth of the squad was again so clearly demonstrated against Ampthill, confidence will be high although tempered by the knowledge of what is likely to face them.
This will be just the fourth visit Cov have made to the Northern Echo Arena, the first of which was in 2014/15 following Park’s promotion. To date, no Cov side has won on the ground, although many will remember last season’s 20-20 draw which was another occasion when the hosts nipped in at the death with a converted try.
To balance matters, it should be mentioned that Cov have won all three games played at Butts Park.
For supporters who have decided to make the long journey, kick off time is 2pm. With the Supporters’ Club once again laying on coach travel and given the success so far of both squads, one feels that Mowden’s largest reported home gate to date this season of 890 could, in all probability, be passed.